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Bilingual back talk: educators, politicians look for countermeasures to California initiative – Proposition 227


Just days after California voters overwhelmingly
approved a ballot measure to outlaw bilingual education, civil rights
groups have filed suit to challenge the new law and school districts
are finding ways around it.

Sixty-one percent of California voters approved Proposition 227 —
the “English language in public schools initiative” — on June 2, but
several civil rights groups filed suit the next day against Gov. Pete
Wilson, Superintendent Of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, and
members of the state Board of Education in U.S. District Court here.
The groups include the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational
Fund (MALDEF), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater
Los Angeles, and the California Latino Civil Rights Network.

Proposition 227 gives schools sixty days to develop a year-long
English-only program in which children are grouped by their knowledge
of English rather than grade level or native language. They are to
spend one year in English immersion instruction, after which they will
join the regular curriculum.

Approximately 1.4 million California students — about one in four
— speak limited English and do not understand the language well enough
to keep up in school. Some 700,000 California children have been
taught, at least partly, in a non-English language, records show.

Under Proposition 227, such classes will be prohibited for children
under age ten unless parents of at least twenty students in the same
grade make a request in person each year that their children be taught
in another language.

The new law “will treat [immigrant] children like they have a
disease,” said Ted Wang of Chinese for Affirmative Action, which joined
in filing the suit.

The lawsuit calls Proposition 427 “a superficially alluring, yet educationally simplistic scheme.”

African Americans and Latinos strongly voted against the measure.
opponents of the proposition argue that replacing bilingual education
with 180 days of English lessons restricts immigrant children’s access
to equal education as guaranteed under federal law. The civil rights
groups that filed the lawsuit expects a hearing on the matter in early

Although named in the lawsuit, Superintendent Eastin opposed
Proposition 227 and favors improving bilingual education rather than
eliminating it. She has set up a task force to review possible
conflicts between the new state law and federal laws.

“I will be contacting school districts within the next few weeks
with preliminary guidance,” said Eastin, who added that until the law
is clarified she “will uphold the will of the voters until the courts
tell us to stop.”

Eastin faces a run-off election in November against Gloria Matta Tuchman, co-sponsor of Proposition 227.

School districts are employing various methods to avoid
implementing the new law. Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose school
districts say they will seek a waiver from the state Board of Education
to avoid enforcing English-only classes. San Jose educators say that if
they are not granted a waiver, they may join the lawsuit to block the
measure, or seek litigation of their own.

San Francisco schools are employing civil disobedience by refusing
to comply. A notice sent home with San Francisco students on June 4 was
titled “S.F. Schools to Maintain Bilingual Programs.” San Francisco’s
superintendent of schools, Bill Rojas, a vocal opponent of Proposition
227, wrote in the notice: “Parents in San Francisco schools are
clamoring for more bilingual and language immersion programs. It is our
responsibility as educators to prevent bad policy from w caking havoc
on our instructional programs.”

Yet teachers, school administrators, and elected officials can be
sued and held personally liable If they do not comply with the
provisions of Proposition 227. Plus, the money used to pay for
bilingual programs — $61 million in federal funding — may no longer
be available because the hew law prohibits them, according to Delia
Pompa, bilingual education director for the U.S. Department of

Governor Wilson, a Republican, announced his support for
Proposition 227 last month and vetoed a bill to reform the bilingual
education system. His final term as governor ends this year.

The main candidates to replace Wilson uniformly opposed Proposition
227, including the Republican nominee, Dan Lungren, who says he opposes
Proposition 227 because it precludes local control in education.

“So long as you have statewide standards, local decision-making
which will adapt to the particular students that you have is the best
direction we can take to successfully educate our children,” he said.

Yet he complimented Ron Unz, the millionaire Silicon Valley
software entrepreneur who authored Proposition 227, for bringing the
issue to the ballot.

“Ron Unz has done us a great service,” staid Lungren, who supported
the anti-affirmative action Proposition 209, which California voters
approved last fall.

Lungren believes an overhaul of California’s public school system
would give every student a chance to succeed, regardless of ethnicity.
Meanwhile, he says he wants to put a greater emphasis on utilizing the
state’s 107 community colleges, particularly for students whose
elementary and secondary education were substandard.

Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis — who beat out Congresswoman Jane
Harman and former Northwest Airlines chairman Al Checchi for the
Democratic party nomination for governor — has complained that
Proposition 227 is “a one-size-fits-all solution.” And while he prefers
to let parents decide if their children are taught bilingually or
through English immersion, he believes that a school should take no
longer than three years to move a student into English-language
instruction — and, he would reward schools that could make the change
in one or two years.

Regarding diversity in education, Davis proposes admitting the top
ten students from every California high school to the University of

“If they’re in the top ten, they’re obviously qualified kids,” he said.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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